Tom Clancy games are closely tied to certain concepts - tactical gameplay, a clear and present danger, near-future technology - but it is the characters in these games that arguably best define them. Take 2002's Splinter Cell, for example, which was groundbreaking for its stealth mechanics and rendering of light and shadow, but is carried on the shoulders of Sam Fisher, the gruff secret operative with the distinctive green goggles. And while Rainbow Six Siege's success certainly can be attributed to its enticing tactical PVP gameplay, it is also supported by its growing roster of charismatic Operators, with a variety of backgrounds, personalities, and playstyles.
As the universes of Tom Clancy games have expanded - with new games as well as novels, comic books, and TV series - the characters in Tom Clancy titles have also evolved beyond their origins. Sam Fisher has shown up for special missions in Bolivia and Auroa in Ghost Recon games, as have Rainbow Six Operators including Ash, Finka, and Caveira. Since 2020, Rainbow Six Siege itself has counted Sam Fisher among its Operators, with the codename Zero. The character was also featured in a 2022 novel, Splinter Cell: Firewall, adapted into a BBC audio drama, in which he works alongside his daughter Sarah. A sequel, Dragonfire, was published earlier this year.
Crossovers and tie-in stories create the opportunity for a more multi-faceted understanding of beloved characters, while creating connections that deepen the lore underpinning the Clancyverse. These projects highlight the expertise of Ubisoft developers and external collaborators who are working to expand the Clancyverse by creating unique and diverse characters and storylines, and show agents we think we know in a new light.
Globetrotting with Rainbow Six Siege
Since it launched in 2015, Rainbow Six Siege has released a steady stream of new Operators, each with their own country of origin, personality, and potential for narrative conflict. The character creation process for a new Operator begins with the individual tactical element each Operator brings to the game: a gadget that has a unique gameplay feature and advantage. From there, Siege's "Universe" team finds a background that is coherent with the tech used by the Operator. A job description and region of the world emerges early on from these discussions, as well as specific military organization associated with the chosen country, generating more biographical details for the Operator. "We love globetrotting," says Alex Karpazis, creative director on Rainbow Six Siege.
At this point, it can be necessary to bring in consultants to help flesh out a character's background or ensure the authenticity of all its elements. "I'm thinking of Thunderbird, who is from the Nakoda nation, or Osa, our first trans character," Karpazis says. "We work with consultants based on gender, race, or culture, depending on the needs of the project and the storytelling. Sometimes, we even reach out to Ubisoft teams working in different countries around the world to get their feedback."
For instance, the Siege team reached out to team members at Ubisoft Pune to help work out some of the biographical elements for Kali, an Indian Operator introduced in 2019. They used the character's birthname to reverse-engineer her date of birth using Hindu almanacs and astrology. The team also reached out to colleagues in Japan about Azami, a stylish, kunai-wielding Operator, to drive marketing around the character and craft her visual design.
Naturally, the background detail explored here influences who voices these characters. Osa, for example, is voiced by Nicole Maines, a trans actress. The team also hires dialect coaches when needed, as specific character backgrounds can also create the need for specific speech patterns. "The most important thing is authenticity," Karpazis says.
The creation process for an Operator takes around six months. That means the team must predict the game's needs more than six months in advance, working with firm deadlines, since every new season comes with a new Operator. Of course, things don't always go to plan. "Thunderbird was supposed to be our first Operator repairing and patching the environment, but the prototype wasn't ready and the character needed to come out, so we had to use our plan B and make her a healer," Karpazis recalls. "That also meant changing her background to accommodate the new gameplay features." That's how the Nakoda Operator's biography came to include basic medical training and time serving as an aerial medic in the Canadian Armed Forces, which is more coherent with her healing gadget.
Storytelling Opportunities: Characters and Timelines
More than seven years after its original launch, Rainbow Six Siege now boasts 65 Operators and counting (the team has gone on record saying they were committed to introducing 100 operators in total). The roster of characters provides a foundation for the team to tell stories, especially through trailers that have become like mini films. They've also introduced new military squads, each with their own motivations, that help organize the Operators into groups. "These military squads become part of their identity on their one-page bios," Karpazis says. Most Operators also fall into archetypes that give players a good handle on who they are. "Sam Fisher is our 65-year-old sergeant kicking the ass of other Operators to help them learn and grow. Mira is the R&D specialist on the Rainbow side, Osa on the Nighthaven side. Once we give them these purposes, it helps assign roles in the stories we want to tell."
The Siege Operators can then go on their own adventures, growing and taking on new roles in crossover events and new games like Rainbow Six Extraction, whose story occurs in a parallel timeline. Many beloved Tom Clancy characters are also featured in novels, comics, and audio dramas. For Étienne Bouvier, Senior Transmedia Content Manager, these publications are more than just fan service; they are entryways to bring new people into the Clancyverse. Telling stories in different media formats also creates fresh opportunities for new takes on familiar characters, or the exploration of new storylines and settings that complement those explored in mainline games.
When working on a new transmedia project - a story told across multiple formats - one of the first priorities is to define the best moment in the series' timeline in which to set it. For Bouvier, non-interactive media like audio dramas and novels have more opportunity to explore backstory and flashbacks - elements that tend to slow action videogames down. Is it a prequel? A sequel? Does it explore concurrent events happening elsewhere? Where games like Rainbow Six Siege and Splinter Cell invite character-based storytelling opportunities because they are heavily based on the agents and Operators, a franchise like The Division allow for stories set in different times and places. The upcoming free-to-play multiplayer survival-action shooter The Division Heartland, for instance, will be set in a fictional rural American community, providing a new point of view from the first two games, which were set in New York and Washington, DC.
Hearts on Fire, the Audible audio drama based on the universe of The Division and featuring Katee Sackhoff in the principal role, was written as a prequel to the first game. Since the game dramatized the second wave of Division agents being activated, there was an opportunity to build a story around the first wave of agents who were activated as the Green Poison pandemic first took hold. "We find the holes in the stories that won't be explored in videogames, because the interactive medium won't serve it," Bouvier says.
From Damsel in Distress to New Recruit
A similar approach was taken with Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Firewall, written by James Swallow and published by Aconyte Books. The team at Ubisoft decided to set the story in 2015 in the franchise's official timeline, during the aftermath of the events of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and several years before Sam Fisher's operation in Bolivia, as featured in a live event in Ghost Recon Wildlands. Other than the directive to not go too far ahead in the timeline, Swallow was given a more or less blank slate to pitch his story.
"The first idea was to introduce a new female Fourth Echelon agent and put Sam in a mentor role," Swallow recalls. "As Sam is training her, there is also friction between him and Sarah, his daughter, so that he has this sort of combat/work daughter, and his real daughter. I wanted to show that he is a good man, but not a great dad."
In feedback and workshop sessions with Ubisoft teams, it was decided to give Sarah more agency and a bigger role in the story's action. Swallow ended up swapping the storylines around and making the new recruit Sarah herself.
"This new plot was a way of showing how those negative experiences [Sarah had experienced] impact a person," Swallow says. "She doesn't strap on her guns all of a sudden. It's a healing journey for her, and her motivation is to try and help other people." The story's inner conflict comes from the fact that the thing that is helping her is also the thing that hurt her in the first place: Sam's work.
One of the people who led the charge to give Sarah Fisher more agency in Firewall was Lauren Stone, who now works as a narrative director on The Division 2. At the time, she was Ubisoft's Clancy narrative specialist, and tracked over two dozen game and transmedia projects, each with different timelines and characters, to ensure coherence and quality - but also that new elements introduced in one story were grounded enough that they could be picked up in other projects.
"She knew where the larger characters were going in terms of the franchise, so it was helpful to have Lauren as my backstop," Swallow explains. Stone would often encourage Swallow to go one step further when he brought new ideas to the table. "Tie-in novels are often seen as ancillary," Swallow says, "but I never got that sense. The novels are as valid a part of the Splinter Cell world as any other media."
Moreover, Stone's passion for fishing, gardening, and DIY pursuits outside of work sometimes serve to improve the realism of a transmedia product. "She definitely has the practical knowledge of a true homesteader," adds Bouvier, who supervised many of these Tom Clancy transmedia publications alongside Stone. "She points out why it wouldn't be logical for someone to grow this or that plant in that location and why, or what they might be able to fish in a given place. She has a lot of on-the-ground knowledge and brings authenticity to the survivalist elements of the stories."
Swallow also had fun creating connections with other Tom Clancy games, helping build the web of references that is the foundation of a shared Clancyverse. "There's a scene where Grim is talking to Sam about recruiting new agents into Fourth Echelon," Swallow recounts. "She specifically mentions that she can't borrow personnel from Rainbow or from The Division, and that's why she's recruited Sarah."
As for Stone, her involvement on Tom Clancy games goes back to her first role at Ubisoft, writing backstories and cinematics to the first Rainbow Six Siege characters before the game even released. She beefed up personnel files, added bio lines, and tweaked catchphrases to deepen the authenticity and diversity of the Operators. Even then, Stone and the team were laying the foundations for the personality traits and relationships that are embedded in the Clancyverse of today, and tomorrow.
What's Next in the Clancyverse?
The growing roster of Rainbow Six Siege Operators brings new storytelling opportunities and tensions between its military squads. Year 8 will bring new Operators, including a Brazilian Attacker named Brava and Operators from Sweden, Korea, and Portugal. Players will also get to experience Siege gameplay in a whole new way in Rainbow Six Mobile.
The Division universe will expand with two upcoming games: the free-to-play The Division Heartland and mobile game The Division Resurgence. In the meantime, The Division 2 continues to release new content on a regular basis, including its upcoming Season 11.
In 2022, Splinter Cell celebrated its 20th anniversary, and the development team at Ubisoft Toronto shared a sneak peek at their work on the Splinter Cell Remake. A Splinter Cell animated series is also in development at Netflix. In the meantime, you can catch up with Sam in the novel Splinter Cell: Firewall and its recently published sequel, Dragonfire, or listen to the audio version produced with the BBC.
Stay tuned to Ubisoft News for updates about these and all other Tom Clancy games and projects.